Information and communication technology

Key points on the first section of the A2 product design course. notes taken from the textbook 



Is the simplest form of electronic communication, and has a low level of reach and range when used for messaging and transferring documents.


  • Quick, easy and convinient for communication around the world
  • Widespread usage
  • Email exchanges can be saved as a dated record of correspondance
  • Documents can be attached electronically


  • Impersonal and messages can be misinterpreted
  • Large amounts of messages leads to slow response and longer time to read
  • Spamming from commercial emails, usually with inappropriate content
  • Limit to size of attachments
  • Privacy and risk of intercepted emails
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Electronic data interchange (EDI)

New way for companies to do paperless business, using a process that transfers data over a computer network rather than using the postal system. Both parties must have EDI in order for it to work, and must agree on the standard document format for the transfer to take place.


  • Saves money by eliminating use of paper
  • Saves time as information is transferred digitally
  • Improves customer service as documents are transferred quickly with fewer errors
  • Expands customer base due to improved customer service through efficient EDI processes


  • Expensive initial set up
  • Limits trading to only companies with EDI
  • Regular updates of standards cause problems with different versions in use
  • Range of standard document formats causes incompatability between companies
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Integrated Services Digital Networks and Broadband

ISDN: purpose is to provide fully integrated digital services to users comprising digital telephony and data transport services through existing telephone networks.

Transmits voice,data,text,graphics,music and video at high speeds over existing telephone lines. It also enables users to have additional phone lines installed so that they can use the telephone at the same time as the Internet without callers receiving a "busy" signal.

  • Integrated services: ability to deliver a minimum of 2 dial up connections at the same time. e.g. voice, data, video, fax using a single phone line
  • Digital: use of a digital signal through the phone line instead of using an analogue signal, resulting in fast connection and clear transmissionquality
  • Network: Access to full telecommunications network
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Types of Broadband

Asymmetric Digital Subscriber Line (ADSL): Most popular in UK. Sends data along an existing telephone line using technology that packs more information into the signal.                                                                Advantages: Easy to install         Disadvantages: Downloading info Is much faster than sending

Cable: Made of a bundle of optical fibres that can carry tones more information than a telephone       Advantages: Easy to install, Fastest connection, more info sent over a longer distance, no loss in quality/signal Disadvantages: Only available in cities and large towns

 Wireless: Radio signals transmit internet to computers. WLAN can be built by putting aerials on the outside of houses which then allowing people to receive broadband internet access                                              Advantages: Fast for downloading and sending info, Not restricted by the local telephone exchange Disadvantages:needs skilled tech provider to set up and maintain the network, Can suffer from interference

3G technology: Offered by mobile phones to connect to the internet from wherever as long as there is sufficient reception.  Advantages: Internet connectivity on the move                                                             Disadvantages: Restrictions to attachments due to software limitations, Only available with sufficient reception

Satellite: 1way= very fast connection in 1 direction (download only). 2way= can download and send but at a slower rate.               Advantages: Available anywhere                                                                                          Disadvantages: Expensive, Bad weather can cause connection problems

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Video Conferencing

Allows 2 or more locations to interact using two way video and audio transmissions at the same time, speeding up the decision making process by removing the need to travel. A video conferencing systems involves a video camera to capture images, a screen to view images, microphone for picking up sounds and speakers for playing sounds. Data is transferred via ISDN or broadband.There are two types of video conferencing systems:

  • Dedicated systems: all required components in a single console, including a remote controlled video camera
  • Desktop systems: add-ons to personal computers such as web-cams and microphones

Multipoint video conferencing: allows conferencing between 3 or more places using a multipoint control unit (MCU) as a bridge that interconnects calls from several sources.

Advantages: eliminates travel costs and pollution, reduces time for a decision, visual info, training of many staff, remote diagnostics available with technicians to solve problems.

Disadvantages: different time zones, failed connections, camera shyness and lack of eye contact can hinder conversations or intent

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Computer Aided Design CAD

Helps to create better designs faster,more efficiently and at a lower cost. CAD and CAM means CAD data is now employed to automatically generate tool paths for the automated machine tools.

It incoporates hardware(computer) and software(CAD program) for individual and team work. CAD provides increased flexibility for designers and allows them greater control of the quality of the finished product. It is used throughout the design process from the conceptual design ideas, which can be edited based on client feedback. Engineering drawings can be generated from from 3D models that give virtual manufacturing info. Computer modelling can test components on screen, and photorealistic images can be used for marketing.

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Virtual modelling and testing

Virtual modelling :

is the ability to represent an accurate 3D model of a product or component via a virtual world, without actually having to physically make the model. This reduces the development time, cost and the waste produced from scrap material in physical modelling. The main advantage of virtual modelling is that the model can easily be changed to meet new demands. These modifications can be made using a function called "bi-directional parametric association", in which small changes to a design feature automatically change the design features linked with it.


Computer aided engineering (CAE) utilises computer simulations to analyse designs. when a product is finalised, test programmes using CAE can be run to determine cutting tool parts to ensure efficient production with minimum waste. The design data collected from these tests can be directly output to manufacturing facilities. Computer software models are used to examine the manufacturing systems with the benefits being; simulations are inexpensive, they can be performed in a short space of time and they are safe and repeatable.

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Rapid Prototyping

Models that have previously taken a long time to construct through traditional methods can now be made in just a few hours using rapid prototyping (RPT) systems such as stereolithography. This enables designers, retail personnel and manufacturers the ability to review the function, ease of manufacture and the marketability of a product within days of the initial design. This shortens the development time, saves money, and improves the accuracy and quality of the product.

RPT machines can produce solid models of a variety of materials by taking thin horizontal cross sections from a 3D computer model to construct the physical model layer by layer. Complex and intricate shapes can be produced without the need of complicated machine-tool set-up.

Advantages of prototyping: Prototypes are used for better communication and testing. They improve communication by showing a physical 3D object. Prototypes are useful for testing because they can determine whether the product performs a certain function.

Advantages of Rapid tooling: Usually, tooling as a time consuming process that also costs a lot of money in order to make the tools. However, rapid tooling enables the manufacture of standard machine tools in prototype lead times.

Advantages of Rapid manufacturing: Cost effective for low volume and small components where the unit cost is high as it eliminates the need for expensive tooling. it can also provide custom made products to the customers exact specifications.

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Marketing Distribution and Retail

Electronic point of sale (EPOS)

Using EPOS systems enables businesses to supply and deliver their products and services faster by reducing the time between an order and delivery. Each product can be electronically identified sing a unique barcode. When passed over a scanner,the barcode is read by a laser beam. the barcode reflects the laser back onto a photoelectric cell. The bars are detected because they reflect less light than the background they are on. Each product has a unique 13 digit number. the first two indicate where the product was made, the next 5 are the brand owner's number, the next 5 are the identify the product (item number), and the final digit is a check digit.

Data matrices, 2D barcodes, are visual barcodes that can be read and decoded by machine vision systems. The intention is that batch or serial numbers can be permanently marked on the products, which is useful for tracking defective bunches and identifying counterfeit parts. 

EPOS and the associated management software provides manufactureres with:

a full and immediate account for the financial transactions involving the company's products.... Data that can be input into spreadsheets for sales/profit margin analysis........The means to monitor the performance of all product lines, which is important in mass production to allow the company to react quickly to demand.........Accurate information for identifying consumers buying trends when making marketing decisions.....A full and responsive stock control system by providing real-time stock updates.........a system that ensures sufficient stock is available to meet customer needs without over-stocking, which ties up capital.

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Advantages of Internet marketing and sales

Advantages to manufacturers and retailers:

  • world-wide reach and access to new markets and increased customer base
  • Increased company profile on a world-wide basis
  • faster processing of orders and transactions, resulting in efficiency savings and reduced overheads
  • detailed knowledge of user preferences and market trends by tracking sales
  • cost savings due to reduced sales force and need for retail outlets
  • less expensive than other media, TV or magazines
  • can target specific groups/audiences

Advantages for consumer:

  • access to a wide range of products and services
  • availability of product info to help make purchase decisions
  • online discounts and savings through price comparison websites
  • convenience of shopping at home
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Disadvantages of Internet marketing

  • security concerns regarding input of personal bank details when purchasing goods
  • personal information can be shared with other companies without customer consent
  • difficult to find websites without the exact details, resulting in a need for other expensive marketing methods, e.g. magazine adverts, Internet service provider sponsored searches
  • slow internet connection can cause difficulties in accessing information
  • difficulty in navigation on complicated websites.
  • doesn't allow hands on experience of product
  • access to inappropriate material
  • spread of junk mail and threat of computer viruses.
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